Top 15 Rock Albums, February 2012

Full disclosure: This latest Rock Roundup creeps oh so slightly into the waning weeks of 2011. It's a minor indiscretion when weighed against the number of killer albums dropped over the last month and a half. Now, I know what you're saying: "Good new music this time of year?" Valid skepticism for sure. The December-to-February stretch is traditionally a kind of Phantom Zone, during which most labels and artists fall particularly silent in terms of new product, as well as live performances and touring.

But 2012 has proven to be different. We've already received excellent albums from a pair of icons: Leonard Cohen and Van Halen. Though Cohen titled his record Old Ideas, his finely honed skills as a songwriter and singer feel fresh and vital. Van Halen sound equally potent. A Different Kind of Truth, the group's first album with Diamond Dave on vocals since 1984, contains some seriously hard boogie.

Another key release comes in the form of the Mark Lanegan Band's Blues Funeral. Funny thing, the grunge icon and his raspy croak sound older than Cohen and Van Halen combined, but that's always been his m.o.: moody hard rock and rickety folk from a guy who sounds like one of them ancient souls passing from body to body through the millennia. Blues Funeral is cool because it finds him incorporating touches of electronica, an aesthetic he previously explored on the Soulsavers' 2007 collaborative effort It's Not How Far You Fall, It's the Way You Land.

The last month or so has also seen the release of several notable reissues and archival collections. Alex Chilton's Free Again is a gem of a document, containing as it does a slew of recordings the young artist made in and around 1970, when The Box Tops were just about kaput but before he had met Chris Bell and subsequently formed the immortal Big Star. Another couple of treats are the expanded editions of The Doors' L.A. Woman (totally rocking) and Elvis Country (arguably the last truly great record of Presley's career). A loose concept album from 1971, the latter is a stunning panorama of the Southern music experience: country, gospel, soul, rockabilly, bluegrass, blues and so on.

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